The administration of President Barack Obama has approved a project to train Afghan combat pilots in Syria. This is believed to be the first time that the U.S. military has included Syria in a training program. The United States has long refused to sell aircraft and combat systems to Damascus.
The U.S. Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation has drafted a tender in which military cadets from Afghanistan would undergo courses in English and pilot-training in several Middle East and other Muslim states. The countries included Syria, which is on the State Department list of terrorist sponsors.
"It is desired that the English language and basic pilot training take place within South West Asia," the army statement said. "PEO STRI requests information on sources available to perform training in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Yemen or other locations in Southwest Asia with the capability to provide requested training."
Under the request for information, or RfI, cadets from the Afghan Air Force would be trained in basic flying skills and the English languague. The RfI called for the training of up to 67 Afghans.
The RfI was issued as the administration launched a drive to increase U.S. business opportunities with Muslim countries.
Officials said Syria would be included in the new U.S. entrepreneurship initiative.
"How is it possible that Syria, a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorism-supporting countries, is considered an acceptable place to train Afghan pilots?" the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs asked. "Or Lebanon, which has Hizbullah as a member of the governing cabinet in Beirut?"